President Adama Barrow seems to have devised a clever plan to take over the opposition-controlled municipalities of Banjul and Serekunda by announcing his intentions to impose on them an administrator, no doubt to curb the powers and influence of the mayors in those two municipalities.
Speaking on Sunday at the Buffer Zone during his first meeting in the Kanifing Municipality as part of his Meet the People’s Tour, he gave an example of how the governors up country are the lords of the area councils. Therefore he said the administrators that he intends to appoint in Banjul and KM “will be heads of all government institutions within KM and Banjul and will represent the government as well.”
That would indeed be an interesting scenario because it would mean effecting some major changes to the Local Government Act, which presently gives such administrative powers to the mayors of KM and Banjul.
By contemplating such a decision, President Barrow seems to have been resigned to the fact that his National People’s Party (NPP) is unlikely to ever win those two important municipalities and as such, he is trying to devise ways to curb the powers of the mayors and take control of the councils through the back door. We seem to have been given a taste of the type of scenario that he intends to impose on Banjul and KM when he virtually stripped the Basse Area Council of such basic powers of even managing their own markets and instead handing over that responsibility to the governor.
At the Buffer Zone meeting, we heard President Barrow complain about the absence of the elected National Assembly Members of the municipality from the meeting, attributing that to their lack of interest in working with his administration.
While I agree with him that, as the Meet the People’s Tour is a state-sponsored event, all elected officials should have been involved in it, regardless of political affiliation. However, rather than blame the opposition members for not attending such events, he should have analyzed the situation in order to know what had been responsible for their persistent absence. He would have no doubt realized that the problem stemmed from the way and manner that the tour had been organized and executed. We have all seen how a big chunk of the entourage usually comprises of NPP militants and supporters who have absolutely no role in such a state-sponsored event. Also, rather than discussing the problems affecting the communities that they visit, as it was supposed to be, most of the speakers, who are carefully selected and screened in advance, re-iterate their unflinching support for President Barrow and the NPP, regardless of the fact that the tour had been sponsored by the tax payers. Most of them see and treat those meetings as purely NPP events, and as such, they expect only supporters of the party to attend. We can all recall how certain opposition members who attended such events in the past ended up being humiliated. A good example was the clear attempt to humiliate the former member for Niamina East Constituency, Omar Ceesay during the 2021 Meet the People’s Tour when he spoke at a meeting in Kudang. That is the sort of treatment that seems to await opposition members that attend such events and it is no doubt the reason why most of them shy away from attending such functions.
President Barrow has accused the two mayors of being engaged in “undermining” his government’s programs. There is however no reason for the mayors to undermine his government and they no doubt want to work with his administration, but instead there have been some clear attempts by his government to undermine their authority, apparently to weaken their control of the municipalities and eventually make them unpopular in anticipation of defeating them at the next mayoral elections. We have seen the Banjul roads and drainage project, for instance, being designed and executed without involving the mayor of Banjul. We have also witnessed the attempt by the former Minister of Regional Governments, Musa Drammeh to use his office to impose the former Chief Executive Officer of the KMC after she fell out with the mayor over allegations of mal-administration.
Therefore, it is clearly the negative attitude of the government towards the mayors and their municipalities that caused the rift between them and the Barrow administration.
As we approach the next local government elections, there is even a high possibility of the government using an existing provision of the Local Government Act which gives the minister the power to appoint an administrator of the municipality for at least three months before the elections to undermine even further the powers and authority of the mayors. “I would not be surprised to even see the disgraced former Chief Executive Officer Sainabou Martin Sonko being appointed to oversee the KMC, with the objective of humiliating and further undermining Mayor Talib Bensouda,” predicted an opposition commentator.
Certainly, appointing an administrator for KMC is not going to change the situation as long as President Barrow has allowed his party supporters to hijack the tour and transform it into an annual political jamboree. It is quite unfair to use tax payers money to promote partisan politics as it seems to be happening now. We have been told that D10 million Dalasis were budgeted for the tour, which amount of course is just a tip of the iceberg. We can imagine the other costs of the tour such as fuel and wear and tear of the large convoy of government vehicles used to transport such an unnecessarily large entourage, the loss of man-hours for all those officials that leave their offices during the duration of the tour, and other derivative costs. What we are witnessing is therefore quite at variant with the “Never Again” mantra that this government had made so much noise about, particularly after the startling revelations of financial mismanagement and mal-governance unearthed by the Janneh Commission and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). However, what we are presently witnessing with the Barrow administration is quite reminiscent of what had been happening under the Yahya Jammeh regime, which of course should not be a surprise to anyone, seeing how the Jammeh-enablers have made it back in government in a very big way. The trend seems to point to the Barrow administration gradually taking us back to those bad old days and becoming more dictatorial as he consolidates himself in power.
It is indeed quite sad that the Barrow administration does not seem to have learnt much from the numerous lessons of the Jammeh regime and it seems to be not only repeating those very same mistakes, but even committing bigger ones.
This is certainly not what Gambians had bargained for when they risked their lives and limb to get rid of the Jammeh dictatorship, hoping to usher in a brand new dispensation that would remove partisan politics from such state-sponsored functions like the Meet the People’s Tour. Unfortunately however, the situation seems to be gradually sliding backwards to what it was during those bad old days.